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Finding partners in your ecosystem

In this page, we'll describe strategies for finding people and groups in your civic data ecosystem who could be potential partners to you and your library.

First, look for data intermediaries

Our first recommendation is that you look for partners among other data intermediaries in your ecosystem [see guide section Defining a Data Intermediary]. Why? Because data intermediaries are natural allies to libraries, perform similar and complementary roles, and usually have a broad understanding of your local community data and user needs.
Here are a set of recommendations for identifying a data intermediary in your city or region:
  • National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership: One starting point, particularly if you are in an urban area, is to check for a local partner of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP). NNIP is a collaboration between the Urban Institute and organizations focused on connecting people with community data (in the interest of full disclosure, NNIP is a partner on the project that is producing this guide). NNIP partner organizations are well-established data intermediaries that have positive and collaborative working relationships with a wide range of local institutions. Check the list of NNIP partners to see whether you have one in your area. Even if there is no NNIP partner in your immediate region, your nearest one may have recommendations on organizations in your area that are fulfilling data intermediately functions.
If there is no NNIP partner in your area, there are other offices and organizations that are likely working as an intermediary (at least in part) and might serve as initial contact points. Consider reaching out to:
  • Local government: Your city and county governments collect and use data – all day, every day – and they may even be making it public! If you have a connection with someone who works in local government, ask for their thoughts on ways to connect. Some other offices/positions that would be likely suspects include: designated open data team members, chief data officers, planning departments, Geographic Information System (GIS) staff;
  • Academic institutions often engage with civic data and community partner groups through research, community service and coursework. If you already know somebody at a local university - engage them first and ask for their assistance connecting with their network. Potential contacts at a nearby university may be found in urban research centers, community engagement and extension offices, and schools, programs, and departments that use civic data (Information Science, Public Health, Social Work, Public Policy, and others);
  • Civic Tech groups in your region: Many cities have a local brigade in the Code for America network or other informal community-oriented technology groups. Search for some combination of "civic," "data," and "tech" on Meetup or Eventbrite;
  • The US Census Bureau networks are great resources. The State Data Center Program is a partnership between each state, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, island areas, and the U.S. Census Bureau. The Data Center program makes data available to the public through state agencies, libraries, and regional and local governments. A list of participating agencies can be found on the Census Bureau's website. The Census Information Centers provide local and community access, training, and technical assistance on census data to underserved communities.
  • Local nonprofits or civic organizations often work with data to inform outreach, target practices, and better know the communities they serve. United Ways sometimes host indicators projects and support their grantees in using data to improve their programs. Local foundations may also be supporting data work to support local nonprofits and could have insight into the local civic data scene.

If you can't find other data intermediaries

There is a strong possibility that as you and your library start to do outreach to other civic data intermediaries you may discover an already active ecosystem.
There is also the chance that even though your initial scan did not turn up an active ecosystem, one might exist outside of your field of vision. Your library may not yet have relationships with the individuals or organizations who could serve as an entry point to the ecosystem. You may have to build a closer relationship with an intermediary who is more deeply ingrained in the ecosystem who can work with you to find a path for your library to build deeper connections. The work of libraries in the 21st century and the ways that library work aligns with data work may not be known by all players in the ecosystem. Taking time to build messaging around what libraries do and the commonalities that exist in missions and goals can be useful as you work to gain trust.
If you have explored your civic data ecosystem and found that there is indeed not a lot happening in your area, that's OK. You have the opportunity to start something extraordinary. You can start to bring people together to talk about data with an eye toward developing shared best practices. One way to bring people together involves inviting a speaker from a nearby community knee-deep in data intermediaries. Or, hold an open data conversation to connect with potential allies. You might even consider holding a training session on federal data tools, or an informal hack night using whatever community data is available to you. These types of actions and activities will help you see who else is interested in using civic data in your community, and (importantly) give you a chance to grab their contact information. They may also reveal some players/things going on that you missed in your original scan. We provide a typology of roles and activities in the Library Roles section of this guide.

Finding Partners in Your Library

You may be interested in increasing your library's engagement with community data but want to involve others in your organization rather than going it alone. There are a number of departments, units, and position types where you may find colleagues who are similarly interested in designing long-term strategic initiatives or programming around civic data.
If you're in a public library setting, talk to your colleagues in these departments or with these areas of focus:
  • Digital Strategy / Digital Initiatives
  • Technology Services / Emerging Technology
  • Adult Programming
  • Information Services / Reference Services
  • Nonprofit Resource Centers / Foundation Centers
  • Workplace Development
  • Outreach / Community Engagement
If you're in an academic library setting, being with colleagues engaged in these areas:
  • Data Services
  • Digital Scholarship Services
  • Government Documents
  • Liaison librarian / Subject Specialists for urban studies, public health, public policy, or social work
  • Administration, including the Assistant or Associate University Librarian for Research